Lessons in How to Become Relevant, the MNS Way

Politics

Lessons in How to Become Relevant, the MNS Way

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

On June 28, movie night for the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena featured a twist in the tale, when members from its Pune branch went on an outing to a branch of PVR Cinemas. But when MNS hits the town, they hit the town, and predictably, even this seemingly pleasant field trip quickly devolved into a violent assault against PVR’s assistant manager, Vinodkumar Mali.

What so angered the MNS that they would dust off the tired old stunt of beating up a member of the public? Did the poor assistant manager have the misfortune of being from Bihar? Did he make the fatal mistake of saying that he’s looking forward to Dhadak and that it might even be better than Sairat?

Nope. Proving yet again that their capacity for being chill is equal to their fondness for Fawad Khan, the MNS was incensed by the astronomical prices at the theatre’s snack stands. Whether or not this had anything to do with the hapless manager was, of course, irrelevant to their righteous crusade against the indignities moviegoers face when confronted with overpriced popcorn and samosas.

For once, the MNS has managed to put its parochial finger on the public’s pulse, even if they did so by resorting to their trademark dadagiri. After all, who among us hasn’t been tempted to set the theatre ablaze when we’re stuck shelling out 300 bucks for a cup of ice that tastes faintly of Coca-Cola? After being subjected to extortionate ticket prices and films like Race 3, it’s a wonder that anyone goes to the movies at all – a wonder almost as great as when you find yourself nodding along with the least popular Thackeray in town.

That’s why it’s easy to brush this incident off as an accidental act of awareness, stumbled upon by the same people who legitimately think of Mahira Khan as their sworn enemy. But what if there’s more to it than that?

Let’s be honest: the MNS hasn’t enjoyed this kind of relevance for a decade. And in our current political climate, where a new hardline right-wing group seems to spring up every week, what’s the party of the prodigal nephew to do? How can they, with their singular, manoos-only agenda, compete with lynch mobs and gau-rakshaks? Amid the saffron clamour, how can they be heard without becoming too extreme for their base? A base which seems to be eroding, as their failure to win a single seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha election showed.

Now, somehow, the MNS has woken up to find itself occupying the moderate fringe instead of the radical right, simply by virtue of espousing populist values. Just like their infamous 2012 toll-booth campaign, which supposedly centred on making information about toll use available to the public, the MNS has brought up an eminently reasonable concern. However, their modus operandi, with its emphasis on bludgeoning any opposition into submission, tends to lack follow-through.

And it’s this same inaction that has kept the MNS on the margins, lashing out blindly at Mumbai’s street hawkers and unsafe railway stations – both serious issues for the city, no doubt, but not ones that can be addressed through riots and Raj-isms (Sample quote: “Why do we need terrorists when our railways are enough to kill people?”) The kids these days don’t want to hear about the Northern wildlings breaching The Wall unless it’s on Game of Thrones. They want simplistic, unifying Hindutva whose narrative is unchanged across the nation, from Punjab to the Pradeshes.

Let’s be honest: the MNS hasn’t enjoyed this kind of relevance for a decade. And in our current political climate, where a new hardline right-wing group seems to spring up every week, what’s the party of the prodigal nephew to do?

When even your last sitting MLA resigns, you know it’s time to take a stand – a tragic loss of identity for a group that, once upon a time, was forged in the fiery schism of a Shiv Sena family feud. Is it any surprise that the MNS, then, is pursuing public approval with the same aggression that they apply to everything else in life? Surely, the cinema-going, coffee-sipping, middle-class youth of Pune will be suitably impressed by witnessing a 25-year-old assistant manager be slapped in the face, and will see it as more tireless activism from good old Raj Thackeray.

Now that some of the perpetrators, including one Kishor Shinde, have been booked, the MNS finally has a name to eulogise that isn’t Shivaji. After all, Shinde and his dozen or so companions, who ganged up on a single employee, are basically modern freedom fighters, right? Saving Maharashtrians from the blatant injustice of not getting their paisa vasool, these unsung heroes might have finally brought the MNS’s reputation for insanity roaring back.

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